Sunday, 29 December 2013

Never Mind The Baubles: Xmas '77 With The Sex Pistols

Did you see 'Never Mind The Baubles' on Boxing Day on BBC2? It's a one hour documentary about the Sex Pistols' last UK gig on Christmas Day in 1977 in aid of striking firemen in Huddersfield. An afternoon gig for the children of the town and the evening was for the adults filmed by Julien Temple. You'd never guess from this film that the band imploded a matter of weeks later in San Francisco.

It's as much a film about Christmas's past and the '70s as it is about the Pistols. The mainly black and white footage looking back onto what I always recall as a black and white world, the politics and the strikes and the furore around four lads in their early 20s who were now the scourge of the country. I recall the television news articles at the time showing churches and local politicians demanding that the Pistols weren't allowed to play in their town. This is, of course, well documented in Julien Temple's film, 'The Filth and The Fury'. It seems astonishing these days that a bunch of scruffy lads with guitars could be public enemy Number 1 but that's what happened.

So what on earth were they doing on Christmas Day hosting a party and playing a gig for a bunch of Yorkshire kids?

From the more recent interviews with John, Steve and Paul about the gig, it seems they were just grateful that someone, somewhere was letting them play. It's great to see the kids jumping round in Pistols shirts and John cutting the Christmas cake and handing it round to the kids. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. And then getting on stage and playing those classic songs and, as Steve says at one point in astonishment, not swearing during 'Bodies' (there are a lot of 'fucks' in that song). And John commenting that he'd had a word with Sid to tone down his rock star attitude.

From the sound of it they played blistering set, a rock band at the top of their game pulling out all the stops. Who could have guessed it would all fall part so soon afterwards.

I wonder what young people thought of the film as it transported us all into that far off country called the 1970s? It wasn't that long ago and everything seemed to be so different then. Or was it? Strikes, poverty, people living on the breadline? Some things don't change, sadly. To some people that film is probably history but to me it's my past.

It's a thoughtful and a delightful film that should be repeated every Christmas. Well done Julien and well done to BBC2 for showing it at Christmas. And thank you to the Sex Pistols of course!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells

My final pre-Christmas treat was, as has become traditional in recent years, a trip to Sadler's Wells to see the annual Christmas production of a Matthew Bourne show. This year it was the turn of 'Swan Lake' again which is one of my favourites. I'd originally booked tickets for Saturday night but had to change them to the Sunday matinee when Kim Wilde announced her Shepherd's Bush Christmas party (well, I had to didn't I?).

I've seen the production four times before and was lucky enough to have seen the lead performers in those productions. Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan/Stranger, Simon Williams as The Prince, Kerry Biggin as The Girlfriend and Michela Meazza as the cold Queen. Despite having seen it before I still forgot some of the scenes and it was nice to be reminded of them, such as the ballet scene with the butterflies and the hunter (and the Girlfriend dropping her handbag!).

The storytelling is excellent and the dancing even better. One of my favourite scenes is when the Prince and the Swan first meet at the Lake and, from discord, gradually start dancing together over a long scene in which we see the swans enjoy themselves with their own group dances. At the end of that scene the Prince and the Swan are in total harmony, a great uplifting and joyful moment to see them together.

If you haven't seen it yet then you really should - it's a great work of art that needs to be seen to be believed.

Flap flap flap!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Kim Wilde's Christmas Party at Shepherd's Bush Empire

The Saturday before Christmas was Kim Wilde night - it was, at last, time for her Christmas Party at Shepherd's Bush and I delighted at the illuminated sign outside announcing the event. This was the first time that Kim had played a full show in London in something like 20 years so I was definitely going to be there. She's played on the '80s revival tours but I don't want to see Kim doing 4-5 hits before being ushered off stage, I want a full gig and that's what she gave us, with nearly two hours on stage and lots of fun!

This was obviously not just much anticipated by me but anticipated by everyone - I got onto the first balcony around 7:30pm and all the seats were already taken.  I've been to Shepherd's Bush loads of times and have never seen that before. That's pulling power! So I decided to find a good spot at the back of the balcony with a good view and stay there.

Kim occupies a powerful spot in pop history - after Debbie Harry and before Madonna. She toured with Michael Jackson on one of his world tours so is no slouch when it comes to working an audience and the pop star life but she gave it all up in the '90s to raise her family and become an award-winning garden designer. Lucky for us she was lured back into pop stardom and she's released some great albums since then, including her latest, 'Wilde Winter Songbook'.

I found a good place to stand at the back with an excellent view of the stage and waited for the show to start. Up first was Nik Kershaw, someone I never really paid much attention to back in the '80s but he gave good show and played some songs I knew, including 'The One and Only' that I didn't know he'd written. He strutted round the front of the stage giving us good rock star and enjoying himself. He fronted Kim's band and played a crowd-pleasing set that got everyone into the right mood.

Only fifteen minutes after Nik left the stage the lights lowered and we were treated to a series of photos on the video screens at the back of the stage of Kim through the years, from being a baby onwards. Then her band came on and then there she was, Kim Wilde at last in her first full gig in London in forever. It was great seeing her centre-stage, leading her band and in full control. The band were very tight and played off each other nicely and included Kim's brother, Ricky on guitar, and niece, Scarlett singing backing vocals (and in the smallest mini-mini skirt). She had a great light show supported by five video screens at the back that kept the visuals alive throughout the show.

Kim launched into a great set of her '80s classics and, as she reminded us, she loved the '80s! We had the big hits of 'View From A Bridge', 'Chequered Love' and 'Water On Glass' before she went disco-tastic on us with 'If I Can't Have you'. Then 'Love In A Natural Way' and a moody 'Cambodia' before we had a short acoustic set with just Kim, Ricky and Scarlett. Something went wrong with Ricky's guitar so he borrowed Nik Kershaw's guitar and we had 'Four Lettered Word', 'Love Blonde' and 'Wonderful Life'. On came the guitarist to play along to the delightful ' Hey Mr Snowman' and then the full band joined again for 'New Life' and 'Hope', all from the new album.

Then Kim introduced her dad, Marty Wilde, to join them on stage to sing the lovely 'White Winter Hymnal'. That meant we had three generations of Wilde's on stage at the same time and all singing. Kim was clearly proud of her dad and introduced him as one of the original pop stars.

Kim introduced the next song by saying that 'they' also had a new Christmas album out before launching into a great version of Erasure's 'A Little Respect' (that she covered on her own 'Snapshots' album). She dedicated the next song to us, the audience, for making ' an old girl very happy' and gave us 'You Came' followed by a stomping 'You Keep Me Hangin' On'. At the end of that she strode off stage while the band kept playing and Scarlett kept singing only to re-appear wearing bunny ears and with hands full of antlers to hand out to the audience. Then she introduced Rick Astley to join her singing 'Winter Wonderland' from the new album.

We then had the biggest surprise of the evening when Kim introduced two songs by saying they weren't hers but that we've all grown up listening to them - 'Merry Christmas Everybody' by SLADE and 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' by Wizzard. They were amazing versions and Kim clearly was having the time of her life singing them. By that time Nik Kershaw was back on stage playing guitar and dancing Santas appeared on the video screens at the back of the stage. During 'I Wish' the snow started flying from the roof over the audience and, with the spotlights swirling, they made it look like it was storming around the place. The show closed with her new version of 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' with Nik Kershaw.

But that wasn't all. After a minute of darkness the stage lit again and the band came back with the introduction to 'Kids In America', with Kim in tight leather jacket giving us an extended and heavy version of her first hit single written by Marty and Ricky and wow, what a version! By now everyone was standing so I didn't get a great view of the stage but the sound was fantastic. Wow! After 'merry christmas's and 'thank yous' Kim hinted that she might see us next year. I certainly hope so!

And that was it for Kim's party. Kim was on stage for nearly two hours, running round, striding across the stage, exhorting us to sing along (and we did) and giving us everything we could want and more. It was quite possibly the best and most satisfying gig of the year - I loved it!

Come back soon Kim Wilde, my Pop Star of choice!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Advent #24 - Three Advent Gifts

On the last day of advent I must give you three songs to match those delivered by the Three Wise Men.

SLADE's 'Merry Xmas Everybody' is a classic example of the Christmas single and is still regularly played everywhere 40 years after it first went to Number 1. It regularly charts each Christmas due to downloads and is current Number 51 (I think) in the UK chart. Of course, I first bought it in 1973.

This has Dave in his SuperYob outfit and guitar and Don wearing Noddy's mirrored top hat (like on the front of his book), and Nod and Jim giving it some welly. It wouldn't be Christmas without Sir Noddy yelling out, "IT'S CHRISTMAAAAAASSSS".

For a slight change of pace here's Viv Albertine's 'Home Sweet Home (At Christmas)' she released a few years back as a seasonal version of 'Confessions Of A MILF'. I (naturally) downloaded it (obv). She's also released 'It's A Christmas, Single' but no new Christmas record this year.

And another change of pace for The Futureheads' 'Christmas Was better In The 80s' (it wasn't but we did have better jumpers)

And just for good measure, here's a freeby in the form of Billy Idol's 'Yellin' At the Christmas Tree' in which the Tree wins!

Go on, enjoy! And Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Advent #23 - 'Black Christmas'

Poly Styrene's second appearance in this video advent calendar, firstly singing 'City Of Christmas Ghosts' with Goldblade, and now her own single, 'Black Christmas'.

I'm dreaming of a black, black Christmas
Black smoke blows against a midnight sky

'Black Christmas' was released out of nowhere in 2010 with the news that an album would be released the following year. No drip-feed of news, just BLAM! and we have a new record from Poly. It was initially available as a free download from Poly's site which I downloaded immediately. That's Poly's daughter, Celeste, singing along in the video. I had the privilege of meeting Celeste at PolyFest earlier this year.

Advent #22 - 'Ring Out Solstice Bells'

Appropriate for the time of year, Jethro Tull's ' Ring Out Solstice Bells'.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Advent #21 - 'Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant'

And here we have Siouxsie & The Banshees going all Christmassy with 'Il Est Ne' - whoever would've thought it...? I like it!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Advent #20 - 'Joy'

'Joy' is the opening song to Tracey Thorn's 'Tinsel & Light' Christmas album. Its not an obvious Christmas song - where are the jingle bells and choirs? - but it sums up the season so well.

'Candide' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

As part of my pre-Christmas entertainments I got tickets to see 'Candide' at the Choccy Factory. I was sort of aware of Voltaire's book but not of Bernstein's musical version so it sounded like fun. And it was.

'Candide' is a tale of optimism gone sour. Our hero, Candide, has many trials and tribulations to overcome on the path to true love - whipped to within an inch of his life, killing two priests, going to the New World to make his fortune and finding out that his love is a lady of dubious morals. Throughout it all he looks on the bright side until the very end when his world comes crashing down. And then he realises you've got to get on with life and play the hand you've got. So he does. Brave Candide!

The Bernstein musical seems to have been played with by various hands over the years to make it work and add different bits here and there. Our hero travels from Westphalia to Paris to Buenos Aires before ending up in Venice, so he gets around a bit and that introduces different musical themes. In each continent he finds people he thought were dead to be alive but there's no time to tell the story of how they ended up not dead. Quelle coincidence! It's set in its time so we have lots of brocade and lace in the costumes, all slightly dowdy and lived in to make them real.

It's set 'in the round' so the audience is on all sides with the actors coming in from the corners. Now and then, some scenes/songs start off at the back of the auditorium that means we can't all see what's going on which is a bit annoying  - or maybe it's designed to get us all to come back but sit somewhere else to get a different take on the action? Who knows? Now that I've seen the audience participation bits I know where not to sit (and where to not get splashed with water when the boat gets shipwrecked).

It was great fun, with some great singing and dancing and I gawped at the speed of the thing with one scene blurring into the next and never knowing what was to follow. Scarlett Strallen was excellent as Cunegonde, our heroine, who happens to fall from one sugar daddy to the next with no great effort but some lovely songs, particularly 'Glitter and Be Gay' from which she wrung every laugh possible. I also liked Fra Fee's voice as Candide but he needs to work on some charisma. Another star was Jackie Clune as the 'Old Lady' with one buttock (you need to hear the story). Jackie brought a maturity and a level of daftness to the affair that was most welcome. Most of the cast took on several roles and that worked really well.

So many Choccy Factory productions have transferred to the West End - and a few to Broadway - so it'll be interesting to see what happens with this one.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Advent #19 - 'Snow'

OK, so it's not really a Christmas song as such but it is about snow so that counts. This is 'Snow' from 'White Christmas' by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Trudy Stevens (singing for Vera-Ellen). Go on and have a listen!

Wouldn't It be nice if the record and film companies could agree to release a proper soundtrack to the film, with Rosemary singing with everyone else? Peggy Lee sings all Rosemary Clooney's parts on the soundtrack because Rosemary was signed to a different company. Rosemary, of course, recorded most of the songs herself. But it's not the same. 

Advent #18 - 'Father Christmas'

Time for a second showing of Ray Davies in this years' advent calendar, this time with The Kinks for 'Father Christmas'.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Advent #17 - 'Gaudete'

Here's a real Christmas classic, 'Gaudete' by Steeleye Span from 1973 (yes, another one of those great Christmas songs from 1973). I remember them walking onto the Top Of The Pops stage holding candles as the sound got louder and then walking off again as the sound vanished. It's dominated by Maddy Prior's voice.

A new version of 'Gaudete' has been issued this year by Erasure so watch out for it.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Heroes Are Normal Size Too

I've just found out that there is a 'fan' page on Facebook for Don Powell and had to click 'join'. As soon as I did I whizzed back in time to seeing Don for the first time back in 1973.

Isn't it odd how heroes can inspire and disappoint? Back then, SLADE were my heroes and Don was (and still is) the drummer with the band. They were loud and brash and in your face with some great songs and a fun attitude. It was the height of glam rock and glitter and sparkle was everywhere and Noddy had his mirrored top hat. I was excited to be seeing the pop group I'd only ever seen on telly, more often than not, on Top Of The Pops.

They were supported by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band so the first band I ever saw was SAHB. I can still remember Alex on stage being all theatrical in his stripy tee shirt and Zal strutting round in his make up and heavy guitar riffs. But, that night, it was SLADE I was waiting to see.

And on they came, my heroes striding onto the stage to pick up guitars and stroll to the mics and my jaw fell open. They weren't giants! They were about the same size as my Dad! Could this be SLADE? And then they let rip and yes, it was SLADE up there on the stage. I vividly recall my surprise at them being ordinary sized blokes rather than giants. That was an illusion knocked down right there. But they sparkled, they were loud and Nod swore. They never stopped, climbing up onto the silver-wrapped amps and Dave throwing glitter into the crowd at the front (he's still daft but doesn't throw glitter around these days).

I don't know where that memory came from but it was an important thing to learn. Heroes are normal size too. Even SLADE.

'The Thirteenth Tale' at the British Film Institute

Last week I went to an early screening of a new film to be shown on BBC2 over Christmas called 'The Thirteenth Tale'. It stars Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman in a flashback-fest as Vanessa recounts her past to the present day biographer played by Olivia. The screenplay was written by Christopher Hampton based on the book by Diane Setterfield. It's a ghost story for Christmas ... or is it?

I won't spoil it for you but there are lots of twists and turns in the tale, set in a Yorkshire mansion in which twins grow up amid incest, madness and death. There was a Q&A after the screening with Christopher Hampton, James Kent (director) and Olivia Colman which was quite entertaining. The less entertaining bit was members of the cast taking photos of the screen on their phones and whooping at the drop of a hat - um, you might have got in for free but the rest of us paid, thank you!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

'A Christmas Carol' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

This evening I put my festive foot forward and headed to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a reading of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'.

It's a great story and one I've read many times in the run up to Christmas and we all know Ebenezer Scrooge. To get us in the mood the foyer was decorated with gaudy Christmas lights and a small brass band playing carols and songs. There was mulled wine and mince pies at the bar (re-named the Queen Liz for some reason) and the place was packed. The only thing missing was a Christmas Tree (and the stage would have benefited from one, I think).

Griff Rhys Jones played Dickens who narrates the tale, with Bill Paterson as Scrooge, Tim Pigott-Smith as Marley, Phil Daniels as Bob Cratchit and Janine Duvitski as his wife as well as others, all playing multiple roles. Each reader stepped forward to their microphone as it came their turn to speak and, on a screen at the back of the stage, were projected old Victorian illustrations from the book as the story progressed. We found a cast list laid out like a Christmas card on our seats when we went in. I'll keep it as a memory of a lovely evening.

They all did terribly well and helped evoke the spirit of Christmas. Mr Scrooge, of course, understands the Christmas spirit more than most of us and becomes the embodiment of it. Bill Paterson was most excellent as Scrooge with a nice mix of whine and incredulity as he has his adventures with the ghosts. I also quite liked Freddie Fox as his namesake, Fred (Scrooge's nephew), who for once didn't annoy me. Janine and Phil were excellent as the Cratchits as was Griff as Mr Dickens.

It was adapted for a one and a half hours reading by Rosie Kellagher. That must have been a brave undertaking since it's known very well by so many people and, probably, by  most of the audience. At first I noticed, 'oh that bit's gone' and 'that scene's missed out' but then I gave in and went with it, enjoying what we were given. She did a jolly good job.

It was only on for one evening so you won't be able to see it but it would be a good tradition to start and read it every year. Next time (if there is a next time) they should read it in costume - and have a Tree on the stage.

Advent #16 - 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'

There are lots of versions of this song out there but my favourite is by Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews. Cerys was still in Catatonia when she recorded this with Tom so it was a bit of a departure for her but, as a Welsh lass, how she could say no to Tom?

This is a very un-Christmassy video, with Tom playing the prince of darkness seducing the virginal Cerys who soon turns the tables. I love Cerys's parting shot of, "it's bloody freezin' out there, in'it".

Advent #15 - 'Step Into Christmas'

Opening another door on the advent calendar and here we have Elton John's 'Step Into Christmas'. It wasn't a big hit back in the day but I've always liked it.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Advent #14 - 'You Ruined My Christmas'

Open the door to the 14th day on the Plastic Bag advent calendar and it's time for The Supreme Fabulettes and 'You Ruined My Christmas' (written and directed by Boy George). A bit of fun is fine at Christmas and, as the blurb goes, 'There just aren't enough all-male girl groups in the world'. Enjoy!

Kim Wilde & Rick Astley - 'Winter Wonderland'

We are being spoilt rotten by Kim Wilde - yet another video for a song from her new Christmas album, 'Wilde Winter Songbook'. This time it's her duet with Rick Astley. Watch and enjoy!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Advent #13 - 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'

OK. It's time for one of the big hitters of Christmas in the beard shape of Wizzard's 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'. 1973 was a great year for Christmas songs, including this one, which was beaten to the top spot by the mighty SLADE's 'Merry Christmas Everybody'. Roy Wood could certainly write a crackin' song and he pulled out all the stops with this classic.

Amanda Palmer at The United Nations

Amanda Palmer took part in the United Nations Day To End Violence Against Women on 25 November. It wasn't a showbiz and glitzy affair, it was serious stuff and here's Amanda's blog about it and a video of her reading:

I'm sort of proud of Amanda for doing this. At one level she's a pop star but she's not afraid to get involved with things like this and, by being invited to do it, shows that she's on the list of 'people who care'. She does care. She's been around for long enough to know what she's capable of and to understand her reach and capacity.

She reached out to me on that summer night in 2005 at Patti Smith's Meltdown and I responded. There is no need to reach out again, I'm there. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Advent #12 - 'Postcard From London'

Ray Davies wrote a homage to London in the snow a few years ago and recorded it with ex-partner Chrissie Hynde. I fell in love with the song the first time I heard it - it has the same kind of magic all of Ray's London song have. It picks up on an old theme in Ray's writing with his sister Rosie emigrating to Australia and that's the kind of atmosphere the song evokes. The setting is finding an old postcard ... but listen for yourself:

Sinead O'Connor at the Royal Festival Hall

On Tuesday I went to see Sinead O'Connor at the Royal Festival Hall. The show was billed as 'Sinead O'Connor's Christmas Show' so I had no idea what to expect but it turned out to be a Sinead gig rather than anything particularly Christmassy.

I'm not really a Sinead O'Connor fan. If you'd asked me about her a few months back I would have said I actually only have two of her songs - 'Silent Night' and 'Nothing Compares 2 U' (on an 80s compilation). But then I found a shoe box full of tapes and discovered I'd actually bought her first two albums on cassette. To have two albums suggests I liked the first one enough to buy the second. So, when I saw the gig advertised I thought 'why not?'. And I'm pleased I did.

Strolling on stage in combat trousers and a khaki hoody she proceeded to swear within the first 30 seconds and then put on some sunglasses because she's shy and they help to hide the audience. And then she opened that gob of hers.

Obviously she's got a great voice and great control - anyone that's heard 'Nothing Compares 2 U' knows that - but it was the effortlessness, the abandon, the sheer what you see is what you get and tonight I might be good or bad-ness of it all was what surprised me. Some singers are just natural - they open their mouths and you get whatever they can give on that occasion - and Sinead is clearly one of those. I've said the same about Amanda Palmer, a great natural talent, not studied or manufactured, and even on a bad night (does AFP have bad nights?) is still worth listening to. Amanda sung 'Black Boys On Mopeds' - one of Sinead's songs - a few years ago at the British Library gig.

I wasn't familiar with most of the songs Sinead sang, sometimes playing guitar, so I could sit back and listen. The sound mix was a bit dirty in places but worked as an artist going out there and just playing. Raucous rock, skunking reggae and some songs with her voice and sometimes her voice and her backing singers (who were also her guitarists - she was backed by a five piece band). Her big global hit - 'Nothing Compares 2 U' - was played halfway through the set rather than as the encore which seems typical of Ms O'Connor but, in a way, it was also nice to get it out of the way so that she can play on without knowing that song lies ahead.

She gave us a nice selection of songs and I particularly liked 'Queen Of Denmark', '4th & Vine', 'Fire On Babylon' and 'Last Day of Our Acquaintance' with the encore songs of 'V.I.P.' and 'Black Boys On Mopeds'. And 'Nothing Compares' of course.

I'm pleased that I've now seen Sinead play live and I'm pleased to discover that I have almost her whole back catalogue to explore. Thanks Sinead, you have a new fan!

Advent #11 - 'I Believe In Father Christmas'

One of my favourite Christmas songs is Greg Lake's ' I Believe In Father Christmas' and I bought the single way back then. I remember seeing the video for the song on Top Of The Pops and being disappointed it was set in the desert rather than in a snowy landscape. The theme of Prokofiev's 'Lieutenant Kije Suite' always evokes visions of riding through the snow and that's what I was expecting.

The quality of this video isn't great but it's the song that matters and the message rings true. You can also enjoy the well-groomed hair of Mr Lake.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Kim Wilde - 'Hey Mr Snowman'

Another great song from Kim's Christmas album, 'Wilde Winter Songbook', and another fun video. Here's 'Hey Mr Snowman', one of my favourites and soon to be one of yours!

We're being spoiled with all these videos of songs on the new record but I'm not complaining. Enjoy!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Advent #10 - 'We Three Kings'

You can't have Christmas without a traditional carol or two so imagine my joy when I heard 'We Three Kings' by Blondie. It was a free download in 2009 so I did and then bounced around the room singing along (as you do). Merry Christmas Debbie, Chris and Clem!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Advent #9 - 'It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas'

Back in 2009 those pesky Pet Shop Boys scheduled a big show at the the O2 Arena as the culmination of their 'Pandemonium' tour in the UK so we, naturally, had to go. It was just a few days before Christmas and the weather gods decided to dump a whole load of snow unexpectedly onto London which messed up the transport system. That's what Neil refers to in the introduction to the song - there was snow and slush and ice outside the arena as they played.

This is a great song and ought to be played a lot more. I always have to join in with the emphatic 'BING CROSBY!' line and love the memory of the dancing Christmas Trees in their red wellies. Great stuff. Watch the video and then download the song!

The UK Singles Chart - 8 December 2013

The entrance of SLADE's 'Everyday' into the singles chart a couple of weeks ago has re-kindled my interest in the singles chart for the first time in a decade or two. When I looked at it tonight I noted a number of Christmas singles:

98: It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year - Andy Williams
92: Christmas In LA - The Killers ft Dawes
79: Underneath The Tree - Kelly Clarkson
73: Everyday - SLADE
72: Driving Home For Christmas - Chris Rea
67: Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
62: Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid
57: Merry Xmas Everybody - SLADE
56: Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin' Stevens
44: Last Christmas - Wham
37: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard
34: One More Sleep - Leona Lewis
16: Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
14: All I Want For Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey

I've not included songs that simply happen to be associated with Christmas because they were hits at Christmas (like 'The Power Of Love') or the current Number 1 which is the music to a Christmas advert but isn't really a Christmas song.

It's disappointing that SLADE dropped four places with 'Everyday' (from 69 to 73) but it's nice to see 'Merry Xmas' crashing in at 57. And, of course, 'Fairytale of New York' is making its usual mark as a regular favourite.

Next week I will be watching out for 'City of Christmas Ghosts' by Goldblade and Poly Styrene. Wouldn't it be fab to see them in the chart?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Advent #8 - 'Make A Daft Noise For Christmas'

OK, so this might not be the most adult choice to make but I like The Goodies's 'Make A Daft Noise For Christmas' and here it is in all it's glory!

It's nice that they're all still working 35 years later. Bill on his nature TV programmes and Tim and Graham are regulars on Radio 4 panel games. Good on 'em, and make a daft noise!

Advent #7 - 'One'

A new song by Kim Wilde from her 'Wilde Winter Songbook' album. I particularly like the line about 'one by one out of the box they come' which makes me think about decorating the Christmas Tree. I have lots of carefully wrapped glass ornaments for the Tree.

I have several boxes full of ornaments wrapped in tissue paper and I know where each one comes from. That's part of the joy of Christmas - looking backwards to see where we came from to be able to imagine where we might be going.

Friday, 6 December 2013

'Saving Mr Banks'

I was taken to see the new Emma Thompson film, 'Saving Mr Banks', at the Ritzy in Brixton this evening. It tells the tale of Walt Disney persuading PL Travers to allow him to film 'Mary Poppins'. Obviously he was ultimately successful but it took 20 years.  Emma plays Mrs Travers and Tom Hanks is Disney and there's a great and warm cast supporting them. I particularly liked Paul Giamatti who played her driver in Los Angeles.

The film flits between scenes in the LA rehearsal studios where the film is painfully born and the outback in Australia where Mrs Travers grew up with her alcoholic father and weak mother. We see scenes from her childhood and how her father encouraged her flights of fancy, see him gradually becoming more obviously an alcoholic until an accident that signals the end for him. We then meet her aunt with distinct Poppins tendencies...

I don't know how 'true' the film is, of how Mrs Travers gradually thawed from her prickly and demanding start to becoming more human and I don't really care. Disney is cast as the hero, sharing her story of a loved but flawed father and gradually wearing her down until she signs over the rights to the book. Both Emma and Tom Hanks were excellent and worked well together - I thoroughly enjoyed the fillum and would recommend it to anyone with a smidgen of imagination.

There are a few clips from 'Mary Poppins' in the film and they just served to underline how little time I have for Dick Van Dyke's cockerney Burt the chimney-sweep but he's part of the overall Poppins experience so that's that. I have two distinct memories of 'Mary Poppins':

1. Seeing the stage show in the West End and, at the end, Mr Banks going up to the bird lady on the steps of St Paul's with his tuppence and asking if she would do him the honour of feeding the birds on his behalf; and

2. Being in the audience for the first rehearsal of the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony when Lord Voldemort and Cruella DeVille were menacing the children and then Mary Poppins floats down to save the day (lots of her actually - well, she is practically perfect after all). I remember exclaiming 'Poppins!' out loud when I saw her floating down with an open umbrella but I don't think anyone noticed...

I now have a third memory. 'Let's go fly a kite...'. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Advent #6 - 'I'm Going Home'

Four or five years ago Justin Lee Collins did a documentary on Channel 4 about the Christmas No 1 over the years which ended with him trying to make a new Christmas No 1 record. He rounded up a load of folks from the classic '70s hit making machines and got them together to record 'I'm Going Home'. It was available to download immediately after the programme and I did. I've only just found this video of the recording of the song and wanted to share it as my Advent Calendar Number 5.

I play this endlessly every year - I think it's a damn good song! I've never seen this video from the programme before so I'm eager to share.

The song is sung by David Essex and with guitar and drums from Dave Hill and Don Powell of SLADE along with Jona Lewie and members of the Glitter Band, Showaddywaddy and Mud. It was written and produced by Rob Davis of Mud (yes, the one with huge ear-rings and flares) who also wrote Kylie's global hit 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' (so he knows how to write a song).

I don't think this was ever released properly which is a shame because it really is a good song and it's great to see the old-time glamsters still going strong. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Advent #5 - 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'

I love Annie Lennox's version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' from 'A Christmas Cornucopia'. It's exactly as it should be sung - loud and uninhibited and joyful. I like the penny whistle and the 'traditional' drumming and it blends excellently with Annie's voice. The video is a triumph with Annie leading her band through the snow covered wood and into the village. It's a mix of old and new and it all works for me.

Advent Calendar #4 - 'Happy Christmas (War Is Over)'

And a move back to the olden days for the next advent calendar window to open. The early '70s produced a raft of great Christmas songs that we all listen to today and this is one of them, 'Happy Christmas (War Is Over)' by John and Yoko. Yoko is still campaigning so join her online to support the message that war is over (if you want it).

In the meantime, enjoy their Christmas anthem:

Theatre Is Still Evil

So, Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra are no more. I missed the news a couple of weeks ago but have now caught up. After a two year round the world adventure the project is over and the band go their separate ways. Amanda is moving into a house in New York State with Neil and then heading down to Australia for the winter to play some gigs and write her book. I'll miss the madness.

It's been a very strange ride with Amanda and her boys with some ups and downs but never any quiet. I remember Kickstarter and supporting the project, getting excited as the total crept up and went past the $1m mark. And then getting gifts of songs ever now and then - I remember listening to 'Do It With A Rock Star' on loop the day I downloaded it and it's still one of my favourite songs.

Going to the London art and rock shows at Village Underground and writing on a naked Amanda with a purple felt pen. Then, later, seeing the band at Koko and, later still, at the Roundhouse. I was so proud of the Roundhouse gig - a rock star jas arrived. And she sang naked to the Daily Mail.

The band may have gone with the project but the music is still here. Go on, listen to it and enjoy.

Thank you Amanda, Michael, Chad, Jherek and Thor - rockstars one and all!

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra “Do It With a Rockstar” (FULL UNCENSORED - NSFW) from Amanda Palmer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Advent Calendar #3 - 'She Hates Wrapping'

On day 3 of my advent calendar we have She Makes War performing 'She Hates Wrapping' - her version of The Waitresses great Christmas song, 'Christmas Wrapping'.

She Makes War is really Laura Kidd and I first came across her when she played bass in Viv Albertine's band at the Royal Festival Hall when Viv supported Siouxsie at Yoko Ono's Meltdown. She impressed greatly!

New Suzanne Vega Album in February 2014

I'm delighted to report that Suzanne Vega will release an album of new songs in February 2014. It's got the interesting name of 'Tales From The Realm Of The Queen of Pentacles' (and I've got no idea what that refers to).

Suzanne's last few, self-released, albums have been in the 'Close Up' series of re-recording some of her classic songs according to different themes. It's been great hearing how Suzanne interprets older music for this century and decade but it's much nicer to have brand new songs to listen to and explore.

Here's a short video of Suzanne talking about the new album:

Monday, 2 December 2013

Vivien Leigh in 'The Deep Blue Sea'

On Saturday afternoon I was taken to see a 'lost' Vivien Leigh film, 'The Deep Blue Sea'' at the British Film Institute on the Southbank. According to the curator of the Vivien Leigh series no organisation claims ownership of the film, it's not available on DVD and can't be re-mastered until the rights are clarified, so we saw an early print of the film, flaws and all. It was a bit jerky in places and, in others, the colour went odd, but it was perfectly viewable.

It's from a script for a play by Terrence Ratigan about a middle aged woman who falls for a younger man and leaves her safe husband (a judge) for the more hand-to-mouth life with the younger ex-RAF pilot. Vivien is the woman and Kenneth More (in his first film) is the young lover. It's, ultimately, a destructive relationship but it serves to free Hester (played by Vivien) from her husband. From trying suicide and weeping buckets she emerges as the strength in the relationship as she frees the young More from a relationship he's not equipped to handle.

I can see why it wasn't a big hit back in the day, it shows life in London after the war as a bit run-down and a bit dreary but it also shows a spark of life. There are very few smiles or real laughs in the film and it rather wears you down with the honesty of it all and, oddly, with Hester's integrity. She's left her husband to shack up with a younger bloke but when it all falls through she doesn't go crying back to her husband, she has the integrity to recognise that it all happened for a reason. That reason was that she wasn't happy with her former life so she would be foolish to go back to it. I can respect that and Vivien's portrayal of it.

I saw another Vivien Leigh film earlier last week, 'A Yank At Oxford', which was an altogether different kind of film. She played the young wife to an older book seller in Oxford and Robert Taylor played the yank in the title. That was a much younger Vivien in the '30s before she played Scarlet O'Hara with none of the subtlety of her 'Deep Blue Sea' performance. This was a dour Vivien with all the feeling she'd acquired over the previous decade or so.

I'm pleased I saw it.

Advent Calendar #2 - 'City of Christmas Ghosts'

Open today's door on the advent calendar and find Goldblade with Poly Styrene singing 'City of Christmas Ghosts'. I loved this song when it first came out in 2009 - it was Poly's first punky song in ages where she sings in what she thought of as her 'punk' voice. I think it's marvellous. And I love the DIY video of Poly and John Robb walking along the sea front at Brighton at night.

It was odd listening to this song for the first time at Christmas 2011 when Poly had left us earlier that year, particularly the line, "Raise a toast to the ghosts of the friends we lost last year". Poly had left us for higher places but left a great body of work behind for us to discover and enjoy. I always raise my glass for Poly.

The single is being re-released on 9 December to raise money for charity (including St Michael's Hospice that looked after Poly at the end) so please download it or buy the limited red or green vinyl single. There's also a Facebook page so spread the word please and join in the chorus, "La, La, La-la Christmas ghost!"

Namaste Poly.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Calendar #1 - 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree'

Welcome to my Advent Calendar!

A few years ago I created my own Advent Calendar by posting different videos of Christmas songs each day in December up until Christmas Eve. I'm doing the same thing this year since there are new songs to share.

The first door you open on the calendar leads to 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' by Kim Wilde from her new Christmas record, 'Wilde Winter Songbook'. Kim had a hit with this song back in 1989 with Mel Smith so it's nice to have an updated version, this time with Nik Kershaw. It takes the piss out of the video of her and Ricky slightly worse for wear singing on the train home last year after a party. It's great fun and I can't wait to see her sing it live just before Christmas.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sir Noddy Needs *You*

'Everyday' by SLADE is being used in the Christmas Nexus7 advert and entered the singles chart at No 93 last week. So far this week it has climbed to No 54. Could it possibly get into the top 40? It could if you download it...

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Doctor Who Is Younger Than Me

By now you'll have seen the 50th anniversary episode if you're at all interested in Doctor Who so it must be safe to say a few words. I'm a smidgen older than Doctor Who and I remember him from back in the day. I don't really remember the First Doctor, William Hartnell, but I have, of course been bombarded with his images so it makes it confusing to remember who was my first Doctor.

My first Doctor was really Patrick Troughton with his bad haircut and his penny whistle, followed by Jon Pertwee in his late 60s finery and Tom Baker with his scarf and hat, his big eyes and big smile. I didn't really pay much attention to the '80s Doctors of Peter Davison, Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy. I consider Tom Baker as *my* Doctor Who. He's the one that sticks in the memory and, besides, he liked jelly babies.

Tom also inherited Jon Pertwee's last companion, Sarah Jane played by Elisabeth Sladen, and she's always been the epitome of the companion to me. Yes, she did running and screaming but she also did thinking and challenging. She also had K9, her robot dog. She's the only one of the Companions who also had their own spin-off series. Sarah Jane also had her own roles in the new series of Doctor Who.

I liked the 50th anniversary episode but didn't believe that was Elizabeth I - no way was that the Virgin Queen. That was a bit silly but, then again, there's usually something a bit silly in a Doctor Who episode. And it was nice that the baddies weren't the Daleks or the Cybermen although they strongly featured. As did Billie Piper as the physical form of the ultimate weapon.

It was nice to have John Hurt enter the pantheon of the Doctors as the War Doctor. He's had so many iconic roles over the years that I wonder what he really thinks of it - just another job or something a little bit special?

It was the last half hour or so that got me into the story, especially when the Doctors arrived en masse in their Tardises to protect Gallifrey and we saw them all... including a cameo of the next Doctor. And then Tom Baker appearing as the curator at the end. That was well daft.

The celebratory evening continued with more Doctor Who shows and more memories and it was lovely to see Alex Kingston, Louise Jameson (Leela the warrior woman) and Bernard Cribbens (who links original Doctor Who with the modern version). We also saw Peter Davison, Sylvester MacCoy and Colin Baker, all Who's of their times, as well as a host of others. The link to One Direction in Los Angeles was just painful but, I suppose, inevitable. Sadly.

Here's to the next 50 years!

March! March! March! Across Red Square!

One year ago tonight I was at the Royal Albert Hall giving it up for the glory that is The Human League. They tamed that barn of a place and gave us love and adventures with Phil, Susan and Joanne being lovely as ever. I blogged about the gig at the time with some photos that came out as not bad since the stage lighting was superb. I went so far as to say it was the best gig I'd seen at the Royal Albert Hall and I still think that.

Here's 'The Things That Dreams Are Made Of' with synchronised clapping and name-checking The Ramones in the chorus. A great song!

Come back soon!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Poly Styrene Videos From 1983

I looked at the 'Poly Styrene RIP (A Tribute Page)' on Facebook this evening and saw that a video had been posted for 'Prayer For Peace' by Poly Styrene in 1983. Now, I'm familiar with 'Prayer For Peace' from the 1995 X-Ray Spex album 'Conscious Consumer' but a 1983 version was new to me. So I clicked play ... and then went 'WOW!'

Poly is dancing round the garden of what I assume is the Krishna consciousness estate donated by George Harrison singing 'Prayer For Peace'. All sorts of religions are represented in the video. And here she is...

Further browsing delivered Poly singing in the Hare Krishna tent at Glastonbury in 1983 with a band, singing 'Trick Of The Witch' that would be released on the 'Gods & Godesses' EP in 1986. It's not the best video but it's great to see that Poly can't stand still on stage, she's got to move.

I (obviously) had no idea that these videos existed and it's great to suddenly find them. It makes me wonder what else might turn up over time. Who knows?

Thanks to krsnaoldschool for posting the videos. 

Kim Wilde - 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree'

Kim Wilde has posted the third video from her new album, 'Wilde Winter Songbook', and this time it's a re-make of her Comic Relief hit from 1987 with Mel Smith, 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree'. This time it's with her mate Nik Kershaw.

It's a great piss-take of the video of Kim and brother Ricky that surfaced on YouTube last Christmas of the pair of them a bit worse for wear singing 'Kids In America' and 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' on the train home after a Christmas party. The next day when the video had gone viral the pair of them treated it like a great big joke and good on 'em! I think it's great that they return to the scene of their crime and I love that the new version of it on the record begins with the announcement that 'The next station is Potters Bar' like in their escapade last year.

A nice touch, if you watch to the end, is to see that the video is dedicated to the memory of Mel Smith who died earlier this year.

And if you'd like to see the original Comic Relief video then look no further and click below! When was the last time you pulled a cracker?

SLADE In The Singles Chart Again!

Like a pre-Christmas miracle, SLADE are back in the singles chart with 'Everyday' at No. 93 with not even a merry Christmas in sight.

At this time of year SLADE are usually hovering around with the perennial 'Merry Christmas Everybody' that has been in the charts more times than I care to remember. This year it looks like 'Everyday' will be a new Christmas hit for them. 'Everyday' narrates the new advert for the Nexus 7 tablet with a dad away at sea on a merchant ship contacting his family on Christmas Day: "Everyday when I'm away, I'm thinking of you..." sings Sir Noddy. It was a real surprise to hear Noddy singing on telly again, especially singing the overlooked 'Everyday'.

I blogged about this last week when I was wondering if it would be a hit and this week it looks like it could well be. Of course, I don't want to jinx it by saying it will be, but who knows...?

'Everyday' reached No 3 in 1974 with SLADE's first ballad as the follow-up to 'Merry Christmas Everybody'. I've got no idea if the band was relieved or disappointed that it didn't go into the chart at No 1 like three of their singles in 1973 - that's a lot to live up to. And that's when bands had to sell half a million records to get to No 1, not the mere thousands these days. It's from the 'Old, New, Borrowed and Blue' album.

If you want to see the Nexus 7 advert or SLADE singing 'Everyday' on Top of the Pops back on the day, then just scroll a bit further down and enjoy.

There's now a campaign on Facebook asking people to download the song to help it move higher up the chart and, you know what? I think I will download it despite having the song several times on vinyl and CD. It can't hurt. Go on, do the same, eh? 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Fra Angelico Christmas Cards

I had a few minutes to spare the other day while waiting for a train so I wandered into Paperchase to see whether their Christmas cards were any good this year. While browsing the displays a pack of cards caught my eye and looked a bit familiar so I picked it up for a closer look and lo and behold, a Fra Angelico painting graced the front of the card.

Or rather, four paintings by Fra Angelico to be exact. Four scenes from a panel of nine paintings that were originally part of the doors to a cupboard that held the sacred silverware in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. The panel is now in the museum of San Marco in Florence where I've seen it. The scenes cover the Annunciation, the Nativity, The Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple. I looked it up in my handy guide to San Marco.

It's nice to see something on a random card that I've seen in real life.

I now have another challenge. There is not just one card using Fra Angelico paintings, there are two. The other is a painting of an angel, obviously just a detail from a painting, but it's also by Brother Giovanni the Angelic.

This painting looks like it's from one of his many paintings of the Annunciation so I shall have to get out my Big Book of Fra Angelico and track it down. Without seeing more of the painting I don't know if I've seen it - Fra Angelico liked painting Annunciations. The pink and the gold background will help in tracking it down.

I have my mission.

I wonder what Fra Angelico would think about his paintings being on Christmas cards? Back in his day, Christmas cards didn't exist so he wouldn't be familiar with the concept but it does mean that his work goes far and wide to a much bigger audience. Rather than just the rich and powerful or the priests and monks who he painted for, even I can look at his work and marvel. And then send it to other people who will, I hope, look at the paintings and not just see who signed it inside.

Fra Angelico's paintings look pretty safe to us now but, back when he was painting, they were quite radical and used the latest techniques of foreshortening and perspective, new ideas that were more fully explored and mastered by his pupils and later artists. Many of his paintings are meditations and not just pretty pictures. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Kim Wilde - 'New Life' video

Today is Kim Wilde's birthday (18 November) and she's given us a present, the video for 'New Life' from her new album 'Wilde Winter Songbook'. It's a gentle song and a gentle video and it starts off with an ultrasound scan of a baby. Take a look and a listen. It's rather lovely.

Happy birthday Kim!

New Maximo Park Album in 2014

Those scallywags, Maximo Park, have announced their new album today, launched a new video and are giving away one of the tracks for the cost of your email address. They already have mine so I'm happy to give it again to get the download of 'Brain Cells'.

The new record is called 'Too Much Information', includes 11 songs and will be released on 3 February 2014. If you get the deluxe edition you get a bonus CD with a further six songs (naturally, that's the version I'll get). I knew they'd been recording (from Paul's tweets) but didn't realise it was this close to being released. Paul has also tweeted about recording vocals for B-sides so I'm expecting a series of singles from the album. Click on the picture to go to the Maximo's website and details of the pre-order bundles.

'Brain Cells' is the lead song from the album and, especially after the rampant guitars of 'The National Health' isn't what you'd expect at all. Listen to it twice and you'll love it!

'Everyday' - a new Christmas hit for SLADE?

Imagine my surprise at hearing Noddy Holder singing over a new Christmas advert and realising that it wasn't 'Merry Christmas Everybody' or even vaguely Christmassy. It's the new advert for the Nexus 7 and I first saw it on Saturday.

The story is about a dad on a huge merchant ship in the middle of the ocean  who meets his family at Christmas by video over his Nexus 7 device.  And all of this with Sir Noddy and SLADE singing 'Everyday' over the advert. Well done to the ad agency that came up with this inspired choice. Take a look:

Here's SLADE on Top Of The Pops in 1974 performing 'Everyday':

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Boy George at Koko 2013

Last Sunday I saw Boy George play at Koko in Camden, one of my least favourite venues. But it was great to see and hear a slimmed down and re-invigorated Boy George in great voice sing his classics and songs from his new album, 'This Is What I Do'. And it is what he does.

We had about two hours from the Boy ranging over the last 30 years but focusing on 2013. Backed by a 7-piece band he sounded excellent and we had songs from Culture Club, his solo music, songs from his latest record and a couple of classic covers. As ever, he was backed by John Themis and Kevan Frost, his writing partners as well as leaders of his band. The addition of a horn section added a whole new texture to enjoy. Bringing on some guest musicians that played on the album made fora crowded stage but enhanced the sound. Which was great.

George opened with a reggae section of 5 or 6 songs from the new album and also gave us reggae-ish versions of 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me' and 'Karma Chameleon' - he must be so bored of playing those songs endlessly but they're what made him a global star. We also had great versions of 'Church of the Poisoned Mind' and 'Victims' from the Culture Club days.

I liked hearing the new songs which, strangely, sound even better live than on the record. I particularly liked the countrified 'Any Road', the rock of Yoko Ono's 'Death of Samantha' and the great 'Bigger Than War' in which I had to join in the chorus of 'Bigger than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones; Bigger than Elvis... but not Yoko!'. O no, not Yoko.

The two covers were T.Rex's 'Get It On' which he really should record, with chugging guitar forcing it along and great sax, and a less polished but heartfelt 'Starman' by Bowie. George is, indeed, a child of his times, like the rest of us!

I also loved his rock star version of 'Satan's Butterfly Ball' from 'Cheapness & Beauty' and the great 'Bow Down Mister'. I'd tweeted George earlier that day saying I hoped he'd play this so I could chant along for Poly Styrene. He didn't play it at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Yoko's Meltdown festival but he did at Koko, a great big rousing version in which I sang along to 'Hare Krishna, Hare Rama' for Poly. Word perfect, obv.

It was great fun to see George on top form, giving us all what we wanted and enjoying it, laughing and joking with the crowd. Well done, George, let's have more!

'The Light Princess' at The National Theatre

Last Sunday I went to a matinee performance of 'The Light Princess' at the National Theatre and as soon as I saw the stage I knew we'd be in for a visual treat. The stage is bracketed at either end by what look like old theatre boxes, one side in reds and golds and the other in blues and purples and between them is filled with a map on the curtain of the desert country of Lagobel which is rich in gold and on the other side is the martial Sealand. Separating the countries is the green wilderness in which there be dragons. O yes.

The play opens with two of the supporting cast narrating the story to a great animation sequence on the stage illustrating how the princess of Lagobel became light and the prince of Sealand became glum. We then learn that the two countries are at an uneasy peace and the king of Sealand wants to invade Lagobel and seize all the gold (as you would). The princess and prince meet, fall in love separate on bad terms and eventually get back together to live happily ever after although, to give it a modern twist, the princess becomes a marine biologist rather than staying at home in the palace. Good for her.

The story has lots of twists and turns, has a distinctly feminist tone, examines family relationships and finds them wanting and is full of magic and wonder. The princess finds gravity and the prince learns how to smile. It has learned the lessons of 'War Horse' well and features a lovely brave falcon as the prince's friend and an orange mouse with a lump of cheese that lives in the princess's tower. The falcon flying out over the audience and especially when he brings his fellow brightly coloured falcons to try to protect the prince are marvellous sequences. He's called Zepherus, the west wind.

The play is full of special effects and the most spectacular must be the floating princess. She rarely stands on the stage but is continually floating around in a very realistic way and this is mainly due to a troupe of four 'puppeteers' dressed in black who pass her from hand to hand, raise her up on their legs and generally keep her moving and bobbing. Now and then she floats on wires which is equally impressive, pulled down by ribbons tied to wrists and ankles. The princess is never still, even when weighed down with the pomp of being a princes, with her crown and sceptre.

Tori Amos wrote the songs and music that keep the story moving along nicely and the production fits in perfectly with the tone of the songs, a gorgeous, almost baroque, affair.   A modern fairy tale for everyone. Princess Althea was played by Rosalie Craig and Prince Digby by Nick Hendrix and they both gave lovely performances, particularly Rosalie who must have gone through extra hours and weeks of rehearsal to be able to give herself up to the puppeteers with such trust and abandon. I dread to think of the bruises she must have had in rehearsals. I also liked Amy Booth-Steel as the princess's friend and Kane Oliver Parry as the prince's brother. I didn't like King Ignacio of Sealand played by Hal Fowler, a nasty king who killed his wife and shot his son only to be killed himself by Zepherus's brave falcon troop. Hal is Mr Kim Wilde (one of my pop stars of choice) so he better be nicer in real life!

As you might guess, I loved it! A new fairy tale for Christmas (and yes, I know it's based on an old fairy tale). And it's for all the family - the audience was full and full of people from little kids with their parents and grandparents to groups of girls and young women and people well into pensionable age. It had a great reception from everyone - including me. It must have cost a small fortune to stage, what with the special effects for the floating princess and all the scenery and costumes, so I don't think it'll be staged this lavishly very often. That's why I booked more tickets to see it again between Christmas and New Year - the perfect time to see it. I intend to enjoy it while I can!

Well done Tori and well done to everyone for a wondrous production. I'm looking forward to seeing it again!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Slade - 'Live at Koko' DVD

23 months ago I went to see Slade play live at Koko just a week before Christmas 2011. This was Dave and Don's version of Slade, not the originals with Sir Noddy and Jim, but they played those classics songs of yesteryear which was good. The gig was filmed for a DVD and it looks like it's finally being released. And here is the cover.

I blogged about the gig at the time, about singing along to 'Merry Christmas Everybody' a matter or days before Christmas and how the audience was like me apart from the young people. I was disappointed it wasn't released last year - I have no idea why it takes so long - but I'm pleased it's finally coming out. It's available to pre-order on Amazon so it looks like it's really happening.

I know what I want in my Christmas stocking...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Kim Wilde - 'White Winter Hymnal'

This is the first video to promote Kim's new record, 'Wilde Winter Songbook'. It's a lovely family affair with Kim singing with her dad, Marty Wilde, brother Ricky and his daughter Scarlett. It's quite touching to see Kim and Ricky together over 30 years after they started making music together.

Take a listen and then buy the album - you won't regret it!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Kim Wilde - 'Wilde Winter Songbook'

I have broken the Christmas Law of not listening to Christmas music until December. My excuse is that this is Kim Wilde's new album, 'Wilde Winter Songbook', which is now available and, after a long journey home tonight, I deserved it. I'm sure Kim would approve. Nay, she would insist!

There are a few duets (with Nik Kershaw, Rick Astley, her dad Marty Wilde and husband Hal Fowler) and it's a mix of standards and new winter and Christmas songs. It's also great fun, with her own Christmas hit, 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' opening with an announcement that 'the next station is Potters Bar' which is a reference to the video of her last year being slightly tipsy after a Christmas party singing the song with brother Ricky on the train home. Gets a big thumbs up from me!

A couple of the songs are delivered in New York supper club style with the emphasis on Kim's voice as it is in all the songs - but nothing's obvious with Kim. There's no power pop Christmas but it works for me. I think it's the new songs that are my favourites, songs like 'Hope', 'One' and 'New Life' with nothing Christmassy in the titles but they drip Christmas sparkle and magic. All in all it's a fun record, sometimes thoughtful and sometimes cheeky, and very full of the Christmas spirit.

I need to put the record away until December when I can listen to it on rotation but it sounds excellent on one listen. I hope she plays these songs on her Christmas Party tour  before Christmas.

I can't help but think of what Kim wrote in the booklet to her last record ('Snapshots') when she said "[I] wear my Pop Star badge with pride!" She's still a Pop Star to me and I'm looking forward to seeing her play live at Christmas. 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Poppy Day

It's that time of year again - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month commemorates the armistice of the First World War and has come to symbolise all wars and conflicts in the Twentieth Century and beyond. In Britain we have the Cenotaph memorial on the Sunday nearest to the 11th of November at which the Queen, her representatives, senior politicians and military bods, Commonwealth representatives and those of the different branches of the armed forces lay wreaths to commemorate those who have died in past conflicts. It'll be the same this Sunday.

I never used to join in what I used to see - and still do - as a commemoration of our past militarism and Empire, dragging the rest of the world into our little European wars. Amongst all the red poppies sold in support of the British Legion I've never seen the white poppy for conscientious objectors.

I saw this article in The Guardian today by Harry Leslie Smith in which he declares that this is the last year he'll wear a poppy.  Part of me agrees with him. He was there, I wasn't. And then there's another part of me that thinks otherwise.

Even this year, this week, I found it hard to buy a poppy from the sellers at the tube station or from the box of poppies in our work canteen. But I went to the garden of remembrance in the grounds of Westminster Abbey at lunchtime yesterday and strolled among the crowds with cameras all looking for specific names on the little wooden crosses stuck in the sodden ground of the lawns outside the Abbey. I look at the map and then stroll to the little area allocated to the Green Howards and I do that for my Granda.

My Granda's name isn't there - he survived the First World War but his left arm was burned and turned to ashes somewhere in northern France. He lost his arm before he was 20 years old. He lost his brothers and his friends and that's why I go, to represent my old Granda who never said a word about the horrors or the trenches like the rest of his generation. What was so terrible that you can't even speak of it 50 years later? The burdens those old soldiers carried must have been awful.

My Granda lives on through us, his grandchildren and through our children and grandchildren. But memories fade and people are forgotten. They become names rather than people. That's life, I suppose, but that's also a reason why I go to the garden of remembrance. All those young men and women slaughtered before they'd even lived because we'd had an industrial revolution and learned how to kill on an industrial scale. Life was cheap - or at least the lives of the common soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  That was part of the Bolshevik argument in 1917 - why are the working classes fighting each other when the real enemy is the master class? Has anything changed?

I'm wearing a poppy on behalf of my Granda this year but whether I'll wear one next year, who knows?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Virgin at 40

The National Theatre is 50 this year but Virgin is just 40. It's odd to think of something like Virgin having a birthday and celebrating it - these days it's just another multinational company raking in the money. Ah, but back in the day it meant something.

It started out as a hippy record company and it's the music that's being celebrated. Its first release was 'Tubular Bells' by Mike Oldfield (which I've never heard other than the bits in 'The Omen'). A few more hippy and prog rock releases later and after dipping its toes into reggae, Virgin signed the Sex Pistols and everything changed. It saw the light of punk (or possibly just the money making potential) and suddenly punk records were available all over the place. At around the same time it started to open record shops and I remember the small shop behind Newcastle City Hall that I seem to recall always smelled of patchouli (once a hippy ...).

To celebrate its birthday, Virgin has released a series of triple CDs:

Losing Our Virginity: The First Four Year 1973-1977 - featuring artists like Mike Oldfield, Robert Wyatt, Can, Steve Hillage, Kevin Coyne, Gong and Captain Beefheart.

Never Trust A Hippy: Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 - with the Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, Penetration, U-Roy, the Mighty Diamonds, Magazine, the Skids and the Members.

New Gold Dreams: Post Punk & New Romantic 1979-1983 - Public Image Ltd, the Human League, The Ruts, Japan, Simple Minds, Culture Club and Heaven 17.

Methods Of Dance: Electronica & Leftfield 1973-1987 - with Sparks, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Cabaret Voltaire, Public Image Ltd and China Crisis.

Fascinating Rhythms: Sound Systems & Dancefloor - Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, Jesus Loves You, Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers and Everything But The Girl.

There's also a sort of 'hits' compilation called 'Virgin Records: 40 Years of Disruptions' with Mike Oldfield, the Pistols, the Spice Girls, Meatloaf, Chemical Brothers and. bringing the collection right up to date, some of the recent hits from people like KT Tunstall and Bastille.

I like the CD sleeves that resemble a 7" single from back in the day with the logo of the time. I'm especially pleased to see two previously unavailable songs from Jane Aire & The Belvederes on the 'Never Trust A Hippy' record - her picture-disc single 'Call Me Every Night' and 'Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache', from Jane's only album. I will invest in 'Never Trust A Hippy' and 'New Gold Dreams' (obv) and, maybe sample some of the others.

Rita Moreno at the British Film Institute

Last Sunday I was privileged to see the wonderful Rita Moreno in conversation before a screening of 'Summer and Smoke'.

Rita was interviewed by Matthew Sweet and, right up front, she pointed out that she gave long answers, and so she did. She's looking good at 81 and gave very thoughtful and, sometimes, brutally honest, responses that were more like monologues than interview answers. She laughingly told us that all the studios had a 'Rita Moreno kit' that comprised open toed sandals, hooped ear-rings and make-up type Egyptian Number 1. She spoke about being in the Hollywood studio system when the PR department sent their young starlets out to get publicity and, on occasion, put them at risk. She spoke about the casual racism of the time, casting her again and again as the dusky maiden or Latino of easy virtue and about how even after winning an Oscar for 'West Side Story' she didn't do another film for seven years.

We were shown film clips during the talk and my favourite was the rooftop scene from 'West Side Story' with Rita leading the 'America' sequence. After winning the Oscar (and other awards) for the film she said she was offered three other 'gang' films but that was it.  Not quite what you expect really.

There was time for some audience Q&A after the main interview and there were some good questions (including one from David McAlmont who was in the audience). Rita was a delight to listen to, name checking everyone from Gene Kelly to Marlon Brando (I didn't know they had an eight year affair), raising laughter and silence with her reminiscences. 

After a short break it was time for 'Summer And Smoke' a film from 1961 in which Rita had a part. She said a few words at the start - and it obviously isn't one of her favourites - before taking her seat in the row in front of us. It was a poor print of the film  and, unfortunately, a poor film based on a Tennessee Williams play. It seemed to go on and on, trying to build the stunted suffocating atmosphere that features in so much of his work but failing. The age difference between the two leads was unfortunate and so were the relative acting abilities. Still, Rita looked good.

PS: I also learned how to pronounce her name properly. She's Moreno (ren) not Moreeno (reen).